MEPs give reshuffled commission the green light

THE European Parliament yesterday approved the reshuffled 25-member European Commission, ending a political showdown over objections to the team.

The new team has promised to get down to business straight away, three weeks after Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was forced to reshuffle his team, and fire two of them - the first time the European Parliament had exercised such power.

Mr Barroso was forced to ask Italy to replace Rocco Buttiglione, who made discriminatory statements about homosexuals and women. MEPs had threatened to reject the entire Commission unless Mr Buttiglione was replaced.

The Latvian government was also asked to replace its first nominee Ingrida Udre, who was seen as a Eurosceptic and associated with allegations of fraud. Mr Barroso also moved Hungarian Laszlo Kovacs to taxation, after MEPs found him incompetent for the energy portfolio.

The only Irish MEP to vote against the new team was Sinn Féin Dublin member Mary Lou McDonald, who said her decision was not based on policies.

“Many of the commissioners support social and economic policies which will undermine equality, justice and social solidarity”, she said, adding that she was also unhappy with the actions of many of them when they were ministers in their own countries.

Fianna Fáil’s South MEP Brian Crowley, the co-president of the UEN, the smallest group in the Parliament, said it was time for the new Commission to get down to business.

He emphasised the need for two measures in particular to be agreed, the Financial Services Action Plan and the Services Directive - both the responsibility of the new Internal Market Commissioner, former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

“Charlie McCreevy will have a central role in bringing forward measures to improve the operation of the European Union economy”, said Mr Crowley.

However, the Services Directive could be the first major challenge facing Mr McCreevy. A number of groups in the parliament, including the second largest group, the Socialists, expressed concerns about it.

Dublin Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa, who has been highly critical of Mr McCreevy’s track record on social issues, and Ms McDonald, warned about the possible effects of the Services Directive.

It is aimed at removing barriers to people across Europe buying and selling services, from banking to sales, but critics fear it could be used in areas such as health services.

They warn it could reduce standards and wages to the lowest levels in the EU, with a knock-on effect for workers and quality of service throughout the Union.

The Barroso Commission won the support of a good majority of the 680 MEPs present yesterday, with 449 votes for, 149 against and 82 abstaining. However, the former Portuguese prime minister may have been weakened by his earlier battle with the Parliament.

The leader of the Fine Gael group in the Parliament, Avril Doyle, told him: “This parliament has emerged as a much stronger forum, and as one not to be treated lightly. We have given you a clear message. We are not rubber stamps.”

While they rubber stamped the new line-up, MEPs voted comprehensively for a new code of practice between the operation of the Commission and the Parliament.

As a result Mr Barroso will be more answerable to MEPs than his predecessor, Romano Prodi.

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